Earlier in the season, it seemed an almost sure thing that the Otters, Sea Dogs and Pats would be joining the Spitfires in Windsor to compete for the 99th edition of the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Saint John made quick work of their opponents through all four rounds of the Q playoffs, but Erie kept us guessing until they reminded us what they were made of in the final round.
Of course, Seattle is the biggest surprise as they ousted Regina, not only the WHL’s #1 team pretty much all season, but also the CHL’s #1 ranked team. The T-Birds could definitely surprise once again and even though we never pick favourites, we are excited about seeing our 2012 Minor Hockey Player of the Year Mathew Barzal compete on the national stage to follow up on his impressive play at the World Juniors.
Back in 2012, Barzal was a standout in his draft class and it was no surprise at HN HQ when he went first to Seattle at the WHL Bantam Draft.
And Barzal isn’t the only HockeyNow Player of the Year representing at this year’s Memorial Cup.
Our 2015 POY Gabe Vilardi will be leading host Windsor Spitfires and hoping to impress before next month’s NHL draft, where he’s expected to go in the top 3. Like Barzal, Vilardi was an early bantam draft pick (#2 at 2015 OHL Priority Selection) and has a long career ahead of him.
The Spitfires and T-Birds might be the underdogs on paper, but both possess the top-line talent to make things happen. Of course most – including our Memorial Cup Panel – have the Sea Dogs pegged as champions, but don’t expect the same kind of runaway series as we saw last year from the London Knights, who outshot and outscored every team on their way to a final overtime win over the RN Huskies.
In 99 years, the Cup has brought us tons of huge moments.
One that always comes to mind is Doug Lynch’s crazy OT Memorial Cup winning goal for Red Deer in 2001 (later credited to Jeff Smith on a deflection).
And of course, any Memorial Cup history reflection has to include the Kamloops Blazers. Three wins in four years and Darcy Tucker, Tyson Nash and Ryan Huska all still holding the record for most tournament wins.
The 2003 Memorial Cup will go down as one of my all-time favourites. The Kitchener Rangers, led by Mike Richards and Derek Roy, were an absolute powerhouse.
I was lucky enough to attend both the 2004 and 2005 events. In 2004, I got to watch the Kelowna Rockets (with the aforementioned Ryan Huska behind the bench) plow through their opposition on the way to their first and only Memorial Cup win to date. Notables were the undrafted Josh Gorges, Shea Weber, and Kelly Guard in net.
The 2005 event was in London and will be remembered as the coming out party for Corey Perry. What a performance. Rob Schremp and Dave Bolland, among others, made this team men playing with boys.
I got to go back again in 2007 when Vancouver hosted and just missed out on the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Medicine Hat Tigers were named WHL champs that year and it was fitting the two teams met up once again in the Memorial Cup final. It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen (and the Giants got their revenge in the end).
This year's teams are stacked and we can’t wait to see what what big moments come out of the 2017 edition of the Memorial Cup. We'll be bringing you every highlight from the ground in Windsor so make sure to follow HockeyNow online, on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter.
We're also just a few short weeks away from selecting the 2017 HockeyNow Minor Hockey Players of the Year in B.C., Alberta and Ontario so look out for our last shortlists and the award announcement in our July edition, in print and online.
As always, thanks for reading and we'll see you at the rink.
1) Prospect Profiles: Alexander Alexeyev, Hunter Holmes & Xavier Bouchard
2) Ask a Coach: University of Vermont Associate Coach Kyle Wallach: Academics, Recruiting & Preparation
3) 2018 HockeyNow Minor Hockey Player of the Year: November Shortlists
4) Cornered Coach: The Peanut Gallery
5) The Search Begins for the 2018 HockeyNow Minor Hockey Players of the Year